The TSA follies

Al Kamen
Columnist July 10, 2012

Just in case you’re not suff iciently horrified by Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segment, which reveals shocking levels of stupidity among random people on the street, you might want to check out the Transportation Security Administration’s blog chronicling the truly dumb things people pull at airport security.

With summer-vacation travel season in full swing, the blog’s worth a look, if only to understand why those lines might be so long.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

It could be because that guy ahead of you plunked down a grenade (but, he insists, it’s just a harmless paperweight!). Or maybe it’s that passenger who accidentally packed a loaded .22-caliber pistol in his carry-on bag and decided that, instead of checking it, he’d just hide it in a potted plant.

Of course, TSA’s crack “Behavior Detection Officers” witnessed the none-too-stealthy move.

The blog’s “Week in Review” reads like a roundup of the world’s dumbest would-be criminals.

Want to hide that knife you’d like to sneak by security? Why not put it in a sock and stuff it into an envelope filled with dolls? That foolproof strategy didn’t work for a passenger in Tampa.

And how to cleverly disguise a stun gun? Try putting it in a walking cane, as a James Bond wannabe did at the airport in Knoxville.

“Yes, a stun cane!” the blog notes. “That’s a first for the Week in Review posts.” Maybe the cane’s former owner should get points for creativity, if not for brilliance.

The blog includes helpful tips for travelers, including one prompted by the aforementioned grenade-toting passenger.

“While I know that inert grenades are cool conversation pieces and make great paperweights,” a TSA blogger notes, “inert items cause problems at checkpoints. . . . We don’t know they’re inert until we check them out, and checking them out can often inconvenience your fellow passengers.”

We also enjoy the site’s whimsical headlines describing various confiscated taboo items, such as “Eau de Kaboom” (a cologne bottle shaped like — you guessed it — a grenade) and “Holy Bat Stars, Batman” (sharp throwing stars).

And we wonder why restaurants have to label their steaming cups of coffee with the word “hot.”

Remote-control heroism

The Pentagon is considering awarding a Distinguished Warfare Medal to drone pilots who work on military bases often far removed from the battlefield.

Pentagon officials have been briefed on the medal’s “unique concept,” Charles V. Mugno, head of the Army Institute of Heraldry, told a recent meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts, according to a report in Coin World by our former colleague Bill McAllister.

Mugno said most combat decorations require “boots on the ground” in a combat zone, but he noted that “emerging technologies” such as drones and cyber-combat missions are now handled by troops far removed from the war zone.

The Pentagon has not formally endorsed the medal, but Mugno’s institute has completed six alternative designs for commission approval.

The notion of greater recognition for drone pilots has been percolating for some time. Air Force Maj. Dave Blair, writing in the May-June issue of the Air & Space Power Journal, asked how much difference there is in terms of risk “between 10,000 feet and 10,000 miles.”

A “manned aircraft . . . that scrapes the top of a combat zone, well outside the range of any realistic threat,” is deemed in “combat,” Blair writes, but a Predator firing a missile is considered “combat support.”

The proposed medal would rank between the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Soldier’s Medal for exceptional conduct outside a combat zone.

Those Supreme beings

Chief Justice John Roberts has been taking some hits from the conservative media and punditocracy — not to mention from his conservative brethren on the bench.

Roberts’s opinion in the health-care case even sparked talk of “armed rebellion” by a former Michigan GOP official.

But the even-tempered Roberts is most likely to take the brickbats in stride, much like the chief justice he clerked for, William Rehnquist, who, despite some bad press, was oft amenable to grabbing a cheeseburger down at the Monocle with a reporter.

Rehnquist’s predecessor, Warren Burger, was a bit more thin-skinned, judging from a 31 / 2-page screed he wrote to his buddy Harry Blackmun just before Blackmun’s April 1970 Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to the high court.

Burger’s letter, recently unearthed from the Library of Congress by the legal blog Noncuratlex.com, warns his boyhood friend to beware Washington’s vicious, tricky media types.

After reminding Blackmun, as he often did, that he owed his new job to Burger, the chief launched an occasionally incoherent rant on the press and “their almost psychotic passion for copy.” (Hey! No “copy,” no pay.)

“The activist-liberal-avant garde boys will spare nothing to create tension between Justices,” Burger warned, “and they will especially go to work on us now because of our long friendship.”

If you talk to reporters “the old system of ‘rewards and punishments’ prevails,” Burger said. “It’s like blackmail or heroin; once on the ‘hook’ they try to keep the victim impaled.” (Darn! Someone told him how we work.)

Burger reminded Blackmun that he had already warned him that “we must not over-react to these tactics and the needles and knives. I should add that, true to history — or is it biology — the female of the species is more deadly.”

Burger also said, perhaps prophetically, that “these marble halls do something to people.”

They can indeed. But Blackmun’s split with Burger, and his drift to the court’s liberal wing, almost surely was not the result of anything the press did. It was more the result of Burger’s overbearing ways, Justice Bill Brennan’s courting and, most of all, the evolution of Blackmun’s jurisprudence.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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